The Weekend Wanderer: 10 July 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


“The Platform is Not the Person” – Scot McKnight in his TOV newsletter: “We all present ourselves to give good impressions to others. Ordinary community members want other ordinaries to think of them in positive ways. More public figures in a community do the same, sometimes with a more ramped method of image management. Teachers do this in their teaching, pastors do this from the platform and pulpit and in various communications, neighbors can be quite busy in managing what other neighbors think of them. Authors present themselves in their writings in a way that readers trust and then think of them in those terms. What about social media? Not a few critics think the whole thing is little more than image construction and management. I’m not so cynical, but let’s not be naïve: our social media is a forum of self-presentation. Let’s call all this self-presentation the platform. On the platform we create a persona, and the persona is what we want others to think of us, whether we are curating that image or not. Others generate impressions of who we are on the basis of our public presentation. Untangling persona and platform from person, personality and character require discerning eyes, wisdom, and discernment.”


green-burial“Green burial as an act of faith” – Dawn Araujo-Hawkins in The Christian Century: “Hoeltke started looking for a more Christlike alternative to conventional US burial practices—and she found it in the resurgent green or natural burial movement. Broadly speaking, green burial means caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact. That usually includes forgoing any chemical embalming, opting for a shroud or a biodegradable coffin instead of the more popular steel or fiberglass, and skipping the cement vaults that typically enclose a coffin in the ground. It can also mean being buried in a cemetery that practices land conservation efforts. And for some people, like Hoeltke, natural burial also involves a more participatory burial process: washing and dressing your loved one’s body at home, accompanying them to the grave site, physically laying them into the ground, and then fully covering their body with dirt. ‘It’s a really beautiful experience. And I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve seen the beauty of what can happen,’ Hoeltke said.”


“On Re-Reading Acts” – Alan Jacobs at Snakes and Ladders: “I’ve been re-reading the book of Acts, and my chief response this time is: It’s wonderfully encouraging to see how bluntly and unapologetically Luke records a chronicle of confusion, ineptitude, and misdirected enthusiasm. The apostles are often a collective mess, and Luke does nothing to hide that from us. I find this strangely consoling. It’s also fascinating to note how little the apostles understand the message they been entrusted with. They know that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah of Israel, and they know that the Christ’s own people rejected him and demanded his death – but beyond that they’re a little fuzzy about what the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus mean.”


faith doubt“Writing in the Sand: The Poetry of Doubt and Faith” – Christian Wiman in Plough: “A few years ago I was asked to give the convocation address at Yale Divinity School, where I have taught for the past decade. Not only did I happen to be reading George Marsden’s biography of the great eighteen-century minister and theologian Jonathan Edwards, who was both a student and tutor at Yale, but I happened to have paused at precisely the moment when Edwards himself was about to address the student body. Teaching in an institution to which I would not have been admitted as a student (bad grades, bad ‘life choices’), I was flattered by the association, and it occurred to me that many of the students in attendance might be as well. To be welcomed into a place with so much august history, so much intellectual curiosity and attainment, so many great names – surely it’s worth a moment of pride. But maybe just a moment….What I do have instead are two things. The first is a first-century Jew from Nazareth well known for his oratorical skills but nevertheless, at a crucial moment in his ministry, remaining silent and writing in the sand. It is a strange moment – and one of my very favorite stories from the New Testament. I’ll come back to that. The second thing is another form of writing in the sand: poetry.”


Wendell Berry's radical conservatism“When Losing Is Likely: Wendell Berry’s Conservative Radicalism” – Brad East in The Point: “The lesson: “cultivating our own gardens and learning the virtues we have forgotten will not suffice to save the world.” Scialabba is surely correct about that. But I think he is wrong about Berry, and in a way that opens the door to larger questions. Those questions concern the connection between public justice and private virtue—or, put differently, whether justice is at once a private and a public virtue. Furthermore, they raise an issue facing a variety of factions and social movements across the world today: namely, whether it is possible to live with integrity, not to mention a clean conscience, when the causes in which one believes and for which one advocates are likely to lose.”


Patriotism?“How Do Christian Patriots Love Their Country Well?” – David French at The Dispatch: “Yet five years later, as our nation picks up the pieces from one of the most divisive, cruel, and incompetent administrations in the modern history of the United States—one in which the pursuit of Christian power led to prominent Christian voices endorsing nation-cracking litigation and revolutionary efforts to overturn a lawful election—the Christian “deal” looks bad indeed. When push came to shove, all too often the pursuit of justice yielded to the pursuit of power. The cultural shockwaves are still being felt. They’re rearranging not just America’s political alignments but our language itself. Is “Evangelical” more of a political marker than a religious identifier? Does it even carry true religious meaning any longer?”


Music: Mordent.IO, “The Foundation”

The Weekend Wanderer: 20 February 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


Multiethnic Church“The Multiethnic Church Movement Hasn’t Lived up to Its Promise” – Here is Korie Little Edwards, author of The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches, writing in Christianity Today about the failings and the potential of the multi-ethnic church movement: “The number of multiracial churches has risen steadily in the US over the past two decades. A recent study reveals that in 2019, multiracial churches made up about 16 percent of all congregations in the US, compared to 6 percent in 1998. While Catholics have consistently had the largest percentage of multiracial churches—17 percent in 1998 and 23 percent in 2019—evangelical churches showed the greatest increase, moving from 7 percent in 1998 to 22 percent in 2019….Multiracial congregations have gained a greater share of American churches over the past 20 years, but as my colleagues and I have found, they are not delivering on what they promised.”


Ravi Zacharias“Ravi Zacharias Hid Hundreds of Pictures of Women, Abuse During Massages, and a Rape Allegation” – This past year has revealed a series of moral failures of Christian leaders, but perhaps none has sent as strong of shockwaves as the recent revelations about Ravi Zacharias. When Zacharias died in May 2020 after a relatively short battle with cancer, many Christians offered praise for his impact upon their life and ministry, me included. But now it has become clear Zacharias lived a double-life. He hid a series of shocking and inappropriate activities, which led RZIM into an independent investigation and his publisher to subsequently remove all his books from publication. You can read the RZIM International Board’s open letter on the investigation and their proposed next steps, plus the detailed and often stomach-turning 12-page independent report from Miller & Martin PLLC (“Report of Independent Investigation into Sexual Misconduct of Ravi Zacharias”). Further reflections are David French’s personal and probing “‘You Are One Step Away from Complete and Total Insanity'”, James Emery White’s “The Crisis of Character,” as well as Christianity Today‘s reporting linked at the headline of this article. This highlights once again the urgency of a shift in the way we approach public ministry in North America, the importance of spiritual formation in leadership, and recapturing what it means to be the church.


Algeria“United Nations demands Algeria to explain its campaign against Protestant churches” – From Evangelical Focus – Europe: “The United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) has increased its pressure on Algeria, asking its government to clarify how it is treating the Protestant Christian minority. A letter signed by three UN HRC special rapporteurs (freedom of religion and belief, freedom of peaceful gathering and association, and of minorities) was sent in December 2020 to the President of the government of Algeria asking for ‘detailed information’ about the closing of Protestant worship places around the country. Now the United Nations has made the letter public. The 7-page long document summarises some of the latest developments that are a breaching of human rights in Algeria, especially those related to the ‘closing of worship places and churches affiliated with the Eglise Protestante d’Algérie (EPA) as well as the actions of discrimination against the members of the Protestant Christian minority’.”


Another Life is Possible“Review: A Deeper Way of Living” – Emily Esfahani Smith reviews a recent history of the Bruderhof movement for Comment: “In 1920, the German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident Eberhard Arnold gave up his comfortable middle-class life in Berlin to launch an experiment in community living that has endured to this day….To mark the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Bruderhof, Plough, the community’s publishing house, has released a beautiful book that collects moving stories and luminous photographs of today’s Bruderhof members. Another Life Is Possible: Insights from 100 Years of Life Together is a snapshot of the Bruderhof community today—and the yearning for meaning that has led its nearly three thousand members to exchange the liberties and luxuries of modern life for a deeper way of living.”


practicing-church“The Practicing Church in Shoreline, Washington, seeks to live out its faith in the neighborhood” – From Yonat Shimron at Faith and Leadership: “The Rev. Jessica Ketola is an old hand at doing church. Her parents were pastors. She served as a worship leader for more than a decade. She recorded Christian praise songs. She ran a church nonprofit that tutored low-income neighborhood children. But in her mid-40s, the Vineyard-ordained pastor decided to change all the rules. In January 2017, after a season of upheaval at Vineyard Community Church, where she had been serving as an associate pastor, she relaunched the congregation in her Shoreline, Washington, living room. Ketola called it The Practicing Church and explained her vision to the 25 or so members that remained: it would be a neighborhood-based church that would serve the community out of a commitment to Jesus’ way of love and a desire for God’s shalom, or peace.”


Music: Maverick City & Upperroom, “Remember,” from You Hold It All Together

Power and Weakness: Part 3 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

This is the third and final post in a series on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (read part 1 and part 2). I’m writing on this significant book in order to continue reflecting on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, which serves as the basis for Nouwen’s writing, and is also the place we are at in our preaching series, “Power in Preparation,” from the Gospel of Matthew. I conclude this series of posts by looking at the third and final part of that book: “From Leading to Being Led.”

The Temptation to be Powerful
Just as Jesus was tempted by Satan to use his power to influence people for his ministry goals, so, Nouwen says, we face the temptation to do ministry relying on power to control others instead of acknowledging our weakness to be led by others.

The true way of Christian service and leadership, according to Nouwen, exhibits these characteristics:

  • downward mobility like Jesus toward the Cross – not upwardly mobile toward what is wrongly called ‘success’
  • willing to be ‘radically poor’ to follow Jesus into unattractive places – not caught up in the wealth and riches of this world
  • allowing Christ to form their entire lives – body, mind, heart – not just intellectually following the ideas of Jesus
  • helping people hear God’s voice in their real lives – not just chattering on about their own ideas

In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer at the end of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage that reads:

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life.

I wonder if our Christian service is shaped by the Cross as much as it is by pursuit of “success,” however we may define it? I wonder, what sort of leaders are we? Do we lead ‘in the name of Jesus’ or in our own name?

I wonder aloud, how can we practically let Jesus lead us in His downwardly mobile, humble, poor, and God-oriented way?

Community and Identity: Part 2 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

Yesterday I began a series of three posts on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. I continue that series here by delving into the second part of that book: “From Popularity to Ministry.”

Doing Ministry Together
I have read this book several times, but I continue to be deeply impacted by Nouwen’s emphasis on the fact that ministry is shared and not something in which we strive “to do something spectacular, something that could win [us] great applause” (53). How often I have seen in myself and others a twisted motivation in ministry aimed at the wrong end: praise, attention, recognition, or accolades. We sometimes become bent on others’ opinions that we miss the true nature of ministry.

True ministry involves proclaiming the gospel together, not lifting up ourselves. True ministry comes from a place of reliance and interdependence, where trust that “the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road” (59).

Think of that. I wonder, when we engage in ministry with others, are we so together in it that we trust God to reveal himself to and through us to others? Or are doing something else entirely? Are we competing with others for the praise and glory of ourselves in the eyes of other humans?

Who We Are – Who We Are Not
Our twisted motivations often come from twisted souls. Nouwen presses the conversation of this second part of the book toward the heart of the matter: our identity in Christ. We need to know our identity and, specifically, that ministry it is not about us, but about God.

Nouwen writes:

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. (62)

If you skimmed that section quickly, let me encourage you to stop and read it again. This is so important and challenging.

I wonder, do we know who we are and who we are not when it comes to ministry? I know it is such a struggle. It is vital that we let go of our need to appear competent, to be needed, and to be seen as the source of good in ministry. We are made in the image of God and valuable in that regard, but we are also, in a sense, unnecessary to God. He does not need us to do ministry, but He does desire to work in and through us. There is a holy humility to this aspect of knowing our identity. There is a freedom in letting go of our need for acclaim and simply relying upon God to work.

This can be a fierce struggle, but it also can become one of the freeing joys of truly doing our ministry in the name of Jesus.

Irrelevance and the Love of God: Part 1 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

One of the most incisive handlings I have ever encountered on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 is Henri Nouwen‘s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. While the book is specifically targeted at those in ministry, I believe it has broader application to all believers.

In this and two follow-up posts, I want to interact with that book a little as a follow-up to Will Branch’s sermon this past weekend at Eastbrook, “The Way of the Wilderness,” and my own recent reflections on the spiritual significance of the wilderness. Whether you’ve read the book or not, feel free to interact with what I write here.

Relevance vs. Irrelevance
In the first section of part one of the book, Nouwen connects the first temptation of Jesus with the temptation toward relevance. Nouwen contrasts the irrelevance of ministry with the push within our society for relevance. I struggle with Nouwen’s reflections here because, on the one hand, I do not want my life or ministry to be driven by relevance, but, on the other hand, I do want to communicate God’s truth in a way that connects with people and is not obtuse.

Here is my summary of what Nouwen means by these terms:

  • Relevance: an obsession with success, impact, and practicality that is closely linked with the things we do rather than who we are.
  • Irrelevance: walking the way of vulnerability and weakness in connection with the weakness and struggles of the world around us while living in the love of God

Nouwen writes: “The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation” (35).

So, I wonder, is it possible to desire to connect meaningfully with others while simultaneously living out of this sort vocational sense of irrelevance?

Knowing the Heart of God
In the second section of part one, Nouwen draws attention to Jesus’ question of Peter: ‘Do you love me?’ He emphasizes that our love of Jesus is the central issue in our ministry and service for God.

The Christian leader of the future is the one who truly knows the heart of God as it has become flesh, ‘a heart of flesh’, in Jesus. Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, that is not something that comes from God. The sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any conditions or limits. (38)

These words cut to the core of who we are. I am reminded of an old statement a mentor shared with me once: “Have I become so in love with the work of the Lord that I have ceased to love the Lord of the work?” I wonder whether I live in such a way that my experience and knowledge of God’s love is so central that it overflows into proclaiming and embodying the unconditional love of God to others? Is that what motivates me?

Mystic Leaders
Nouwen brings the first part of the book to a close by calling believers to a life of contemplative prayer as mystic leaders. Sometimes the words “contemplative” and “mystic” throw people off. However, what he is really speaking about is our attentive pondering the love of God throughout our lives. The question here is not only do we love Jesus, but do we live a life of love with Him. Read these words:

A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love. . . Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word, and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness? (42-43)

Again, Nouwen pierces to the heart. Who am I as a leader, minister, or servant of Christ? Am I devoted to Jesus? Am I loving Him fully?